Friday, 17 May 2013

Book Review: The Machine by James Smythe

The Machine
By James Smythe
Published by Blue Door
Hardback and ebook available. Paperback forthcoming. 

The Machine is one of those books that are hard to talk about because one slip of the tongue could unravel the fun of the story for a potential reader. So, I will try and not give away too many spoilers. This book successfully blends together several genres – part science fiction, part love story, part psychological drama, creating an intense, gripping story.

The Machine tells the story of Beth as she tries to find a way of getting back her husband and war veteran, Victor, no matter what the cost. Her only hope is ‘the machine’. Scientists have created an imposing contraption to help patients with dementia and memory loss to get back their memories and their old lives. The machine can purge, remove the past, commit memories but simply recording recalled memories from the person and replenish those memories back into the patient. Victor was one of a few who had signed up for the initial tests with the machine but has ended up in care facility.

There are echoes of Frankenstein and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind throughout the novel. There were times when I thought of the machine being similar to the one used in Eternal Sunshine – except the one in Smythe’s book replants the memories rather than extracts. But the results are similar – ripping apart people’s lives.

The Machine delves into the same sort of themes that Smythe started to explore in The Explorer. Physical and mental isolation are big factors in Beth’s life. She lives on the Isle of Wight with the rest of the UK partially flooded. Climate change has transformed the landscape. The land is barren and dry. It hardly rains and when it does there are huge celebrations. She lives in an estate, tucked away in her flat and avoids contact with her neighbours and with her colleagues at the local school. There is a minimal ferry service back to the main land. She has forced herself into a self-imposed isolation from the real world. This is a dark, absorbing story intertwined with grand themes. Smythe ties it all together successfully. I could feel the hot oppressive air also closing in on them as I delved deeper into the book.

Everyone tries to carry on with their normal lives – going to school, ordering a curry on Friday, going to the pub. The normalcy of life reminded me of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach. There are rumblings of change and discontent but overall people carry on, waiting for some sort of catastrophe to arrive.

Smythe follows on from The Explorer with exploration of memory. There are points throughout the novel that Beth seems to remember events with rose-tinted glasses. Smythe tackles the reliability of memory and the way that people can create memories to create out own truths and reality. Should we rely on our memories? Are we the unreliable narrator of our own lives?

I have read three of Smythe’s novels – The Testimony, The Explorer and The Machine. Each book has been better than the last one and it’s about time that his books start winning awards. I am definitely looking forward to the next book. 

The Machine is available from your favourite online or offline book retailer.

I was kindly sent a copy by Blue Door.

Thursday, 16 May 2013


I wanted to write a blog post about how busy I have been on writing chapter seven and how easy it was to plan this whole novel.
But I'm afraid this post isn't going to look at how well I am writing my novel.
I have been procrastinating.
I haven't been slumped on the sofa, daydreaming, letting my creativity dribble out of my ears.
I have been writing something else.
Instead I have started to work on a few non fiction pieces about our dysfunctional car history. I am hoping to write about my first driving lesson when the exhaust fell off, the car that needed ten hours worth of welding and the car that went for an MOT and the Mechanic told us that the car had at some point been involved in a crash and had been written off.
Apparently, this is called positive procrastination.
The other day I needed to write a couple of book reviews but instead I worked on my novel.
So my brain wants to play games. Next weekend I am going to write a 'book review.'

I have been cleaning up my blog recently. I now have a new page called Current Projects. This page does what it says it does on the label - I have listed my current writing projects.

Do you find procrastinating can lead to positive creativity in other areas?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Book Review: A Fucked Up Life in Books

By BookCunt
Published by The Friday Project
Available as an ebook

Can you remember what book you were reading when life’s major events were happening to you?

BookCunt can.

A Fucked Up Life In Books is a book that will having you literally lol-ing out in public. This book tells the adventures of book blogger, BookCunt. She has taken the best bits from her blog and combined them with new additions for her book.

This book is a hilarious, yet touching look into her social-awkward life and her reading habits. This is a honest and raw memoir. We discover the book BookCunt was reading while having sex, the book she was carrying when your mother seriously considered selling BookCunt for 30 camels and we learn why reading in public is dangerous.

One of my favourite chapters is when she is in her boyfriend’s house and inspects his bookshelves to see if he is the ‘right sort’ of person. I do that too – have a nose a other people’s bookshelves. A glimpse into a person’s reading habits is a great way to know a person.

A Fucked Up Life in Books is an absorbing read. The publisher sent me a copy a few weeks ago. I always like to read a few pages before adding books to my ‘review’ pile but with this one I kept reading. I was finished within 24 hours – only stopping to sleep and work.

It’s only available as an ebook at the moment but I think it would make a great book to have at till points in book shops.

BookCunt blogs here

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Do You Suffer From Doubts When Writing?

We all have them when writing. 
Big ones that stop us from writing.
Little ones that make us pause.
Am I good enough?
Is chapter six completely shit? 
What if I am writing this novel for the next fifty years?
If I miss the deadline then it means I am not a good writer. 

They follow us around like a little black cloud. They lurk just out of sight, lingering in the background when you're making progress with your writing. 

The party manifesto in most 'how-to' writing guides and text books tell you to push those sorts of thoughts out of your head. Yes, they are right to a certain degree.

Sometimes you need these to improve your writing.

Honesty is one of the things you REALLY do need when writing.
You need to be able to trust yourself.
Have the confidence to make a decision.

Doubts are good when you’re struggling with a story.
Last week I wrote quite a chunk of chapter six – 1200 words.
I wrote most of it in one session – that’s good for me. I can normally manage 500-ish words.
Shut down the computer. Took a step away.

This week: I don’t think chapter six is quite right.
Too over the top. Too much dialogue. 
I tried a few ‘free writing’ exercises to try and work through the story.
I need to chop the beginning, most of the middle and all of the end.
Chapter six is currently 200 words long.